68th Annual All-Japan Amateur Sumo Championship

Kokugikan hosted the Amateur Sumo Championship on Sunday. Koshiro Tanioka of Kinki University (近畿大) won the yusho. One of the favorites heading into the event was new college Yokozuna, Daiki Nakamura. You may remember that last month the first-year college student from Nippon Sports Science University (日体大) defeated Tanioka to capture the University title. If anyone had hoped for a rematch, they got it…in the round of 32!

That’s right, imagine Duke facing off against UNC on the first weekend of March Madness, perhaps a late game on Sunday night as everyone’s trying to get home for their 8 am classes. The freshman yokozuna was toppled after his first-round bye. Tanioka went on to win his next four matches (at total of six through the knockout phase) and captured the yusho! Tanioka had one loss in the earlier qualification stage so while Nakamura went undefeated in the prelims, this highlight matchup came early.

* Corrections made to some rather sloppy mistakes I made with the universities. Thank you Herouth! I’m glad I spelled UNC and Duke right. That would have been embarrassing. I think they’d retract my birth certificate over that. The university abbreviations are often two characters but were three on the torikumi list I saw, and that’s what I used for the data in the graph at the bottom.

I’m sorry this video picks up after the tachiai but it gives a great sense of the crashing disappointment felt by Nakamura as he realized he lost. His afternoon should have just started but it was suddenly all over and time to go home. Tanioka, on the other hand, exhibited great technique by dancing along the tawara but sneaking his hands in for a strong uwatedashinage.

The title bout was against a Kazakh prospect, Yelshin, from Nippon Daigaku (日本大). Tanioka got on his opponent’s nerves early with the matta games. He did this several times during the tournament. The hit-and-shift tachiai led to a quick, arms-length shoving match with Tanioka quickly sneaking in for a belt grip. The sudden pull forced Yelshin to one knee for an uwatenage win for Tanioka.

Ladies, Get a Load of the Size of That Belt Buckle!

I want to draw your attention not to the yusho trophy, which is quite nice or the Purple Ribbon of Greatness, but to the massive belt-buckle which would fit in quite well in Texas. Amirite, Bruce? This trophy may find itself next to the macaron and the mushrooms in my list of all-time-faves. The original of this comes from @die_is_cast_ on Twitter, who has more great pics of the winners.

An interesting component of this tournament is that it features sumo wrestlers from companies and the general public, even the occasional high school student. There were two such high school students in this year’s competition, including the high school yokozuna. Nippon Daigaku and Chuo Daigaku sent quite a few wrestlers, as did the Aishin corporation.

Number of Competitors per Institution

27 thoughts on “68th Annual All-Japan Amateur Sumo Championship

  1. After the title match the Kazakh lad looks at Tamioka as if to say “You won. Congratulations. But you acted like a complete d*ck and I didn’t. Next time…”

    Big thanks for posting this.

    • So maybe we should be glad that he decided he doesn’t want to enter Grand Sumo. And maybe less glad that he wants to teach sumo to children…

      I’m hoping to see that Kazakh join, though. It’s been a while since there was a Kazakh in Grand Sumo. Asashoryu claims he brought him to Japan.

      • Endo wanted to be a teacher, too. Maybe a heya can entice him to join? I hear teachers’ salaries are better in Japan, though, than the US.

      • I’m going to guess that when Yerushin the Kazakh goes professional he will have a shikona including “風”, as in “kaze”-khstan.

        • They’ll do the same trick twice? The previous Kazakh rikishi was named Kazafuzan (風冨山) (note to other readers: “Kazafu” is how the Japanese transliterate “Kazakh”).

  2. A few corrections, if you don’t mind.

    Nakamura is from the Nippon Sports University, Nittaidai, 日体大.
    Tanioka is from Kinki university (Kindai, which is its official name in English). However, its kanji is 近大 (not 日体大, the above).
    Yelshin (or is it Yerushin? Yershin? Yersin? Yelusin… sheesh, Japanese transliteration… anyway, it’s his name, he is not “from Yelshin”) is from Nihon University, Nichidai (日大).

  3. So to understand correctly Tanioka does not plan to become a pro sumo wrestler?

    Part of me is disappointed and at the same time I feel good for his smart decision in life. He probably just increased his life expectancy for about 10 years if not more.

    But I’m still sad we won’t see him duke it out in grand sumo

    • So far that’s the plan. It will be interesting to see if he still competes as an amateur. I think his eligibility for the Makushita placement perk lasts 18 months.

      • I would imagine that they had a less painful and more lucrative career option.

        I would think that before deciding pursue a career in sumo a young man would, in most cases, have to either love the sport or know that he could be really good at it. Otherwise you are dedicating the next few years of your life to a punishing, spartan lifestyle with no guarantee of financial reward. Look a relatively successful guy like Nishikigi, it took him nine years of sweat and toil before he earned a bean from the sport. And of course all it takes is one bad injury and you’re back to looking for an entry level job in fish-canning.

        For top amateurs however, the situation is a bit different. They generally have college degrees (or at least a high school diploma) and will be parachuted in to an elevated banzuke spot. Not only do they have an education to fall back on but there is also a chance to start making decent money within a year or so of their debut. If I was in that position, I would definitely want to see if I could make a go of it. But that’s from the perspective of a bitter and twisted 53 year old whose mum stopped him from going to amateur boxing club 40 years ago just as he was getting good at it, because it was “interfering with your homework”.

        • Yes, I’d say for a lot of those who don’t turn pro it’s a matter of loving sumo as a sport but not the Ozumo lifestyle. There are a number of companies that have well-established amateur teams on the corporate circuit, and if you’re good enough to get recruited by one of those you get to apply your university education to a regular desk job and continue to do sumo competitively on the side, with company support

          Anyway, I’d say the really, really, really good collegiate competitors usually do turn professional. But among second-tier wrestlers who are good enough for frequent last 16’s and quarterfinals on the collegiate circuit but rarely actually do win tournaments, the non-turning pro rate is rather high. Sometimes those guys even do fluke victories in one of the majors, but it’s quickly clear that even getting to start at makushita 15 won’t be enticing them to give the professional ranks a shot.

          The biggest area of attrition is probably among guys who were top wrestlers in high school, but then ended up merely average at the university level. There are almost certainly some who would have thrived in Ozumo if they’d gone pro straight away, and some more who would still do well as pros after university but have given up the dream after their disappointing collegiate years.

          • Very interesting. Is there some prestige to being a top corporate sumo? I find it a little odd that some top HS wrestlers that ended up average at university could’ve thrived in Ozumo. Doesn’t their lack of stardom at college mean that they’d likely have topped out in upper sandanme/lower makushita? Or is there a different ruleset in college?

            • I wonder if it’s analogous to the situation in basketball. University basketball is a different game from the NBA. Kobe Bryant went straight from HS to the NBA. While it’s likely he would have done well in a university program, it’s not guaranteed. Conversely, many university stars that I went to school with did not have long careers in the NBA. Grand sumo is a fortnight of bouts, win or lose. This amateur tournament was 1-day, several bouts, and an elimimation phase…with no harite. To me, the bouts seemed fast paced, I didn’t see any leaning contests. It was very fascinating and I plan to cover it more in the future to see these contrasts. The next tournament that I saw on the schedule was in March in Kochi.

        • I’m not quite sure what the history of those college sumo entries to Ozumo is, but are there any examples of rikishi really reaching the top level (Ozeki at least). I know Mitakeumi is trying hard and Endo might have had some potential if not for those injuries. Now Asanoyama might actually become the first?
          I’m not sure if the situation in sumo is comparable with the NBA. A lot of college players are one and done players, meaning they only spend one year at university before moving to pros, so they still enter the sport with 19 or 20 … that’s especially true for the top talents.It’s pretty rare nowadays that players spend the full time on college and turn into stars at nba level.
          In sumo they go through the whole university career maybe joining sumo with 23 or so. That’s a lot of years “lost”. I don’t believe the university training is nearly as intense as is the training in a stable.
          I think Hakuho, Asashoryu and Takanohana all became Yokozuna at 22, Akebono with 24, Kitanofuji and Taiho with 21. Basically all the Yokozuna reaching 10 or more wins had reached their top rank before or at about the age college rikishi even enter Ozumo. Even late bloomer Chiyonofuji was only 26 when he reached Yokozuna.
          I guess there is a very realistic concern if your career will be long and successful enough, to make it worth it. Not everyone is a pretty face like Endo and can bank on massive sponsorship support.

          • There have been 7 rikishi of a collegiate background who became ozeki, one of whom (Wajima) went on to yokozuna. It’s been over a decade since the latest one though.

            With apologies to the hosts for yet another (sort of) self-promoting link, if you’re interested in an accounting of sekitori who came from the university scene, a full list can be found here: http://www.sumoforum.net/forums/topic/29578-sekitori-with-collegiate-sumo-experience/

            Anyway, as Andy said it’s just a completely different competition setup. Some guys may thrive under the pressure of a knockout system where it’s about being in peak shape for a handful of “game days” per year, while others benefit from the long-term challenge that the banzuke provides.

            In general I think professional sumo is a bit of a culture shock for successful amateurs – you’re going from a place where winning at least 6 and losing 1 (3 wins in the prelims and 3 in the knockouts, then a loss around the quarterfinal stage) is expected and normal, to a place where even the stars consistently win 5 and lose 4. Not everybody can handle that sort of system where losing is commonplace.

            • Thanks, very interesting. I think Azumaryu needs an update btw ;) One interesting thing, with very few exception till #70 (Bushuyama) of your list almost all the rikishi started in Makushita, after that almost all start in Maezumo and higher entries become the exception. Given that the first 70 span all the time till about 2002 and in the now 17years since then it had another 62 entries … has there been any change in the entry policies? Also from the first 70 62 made it to Juryu and 33 Makuuchi, after that the numbers become 32 and 13. Of the 25 Sanyaku 21 are from that first batch of 70 including all the Ozeki …

              • Yes, the admission criteria for the makushita starts were significantly more lax before 2001. Something like one top 16 result in the tournament this thread is about or a semifinal in one of the other majors (don’t quote me on the details), and for a while even the East and West Japan regional championships and the national weight-class championship counted, not only national open-weight events.

                So there were almost no collegiate sumotori with reasonable pro career expectations who didn’t qualify for a start at makushita 60. Since 2001 a lot more of them have to start their journey at the bottom.

                As for the relatively lower career success rates of the more recent collegiate rikishi, keep in mind that recruiting from foreign countries also started to increase massively around the year 2000. It’s a very different competitive landscape than the 1980s/90s collegiates faced.

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